Comtes de Champagne’s inaugural vintage was 1952 and it is reputed to be the first prestige cuvée Blanc de Blancs.
'With its charm and success it was able to boost the popularity of the entire Blanc de Blancs style. Cellar Master Loïc Dupont comments on the construction of the wine: “The wine comes almost 100 per cent from the Grand Cru villages of Côte des Blancs. The emphasis is on Avize and Mesnil fruit. It is a peculiar prestige cuvée in the sense that only half of the raw material for the 200,000 bottles we produce originates in our own vineyards. The rest are sourced via long term contracts.” The wine is produced in a modern reductionist style by fermenting the must at a controlled temperature of 16 degrees celsius.
Since the 1989 vintage, a fraction of the wine has been aged in fairly new oak barrels for four months. Loïc Dupont explains: “We do not wish to add any oak flavour to the wine but oak maturation is beneficial for the wine’s structure. Also the toasty aroma of the Chardonnay we accomplish at youth is most welcome. 20 per cent of the oak barrels are new, 20 per cent one year old, 20 per cent two years old and so on. Amongst other French oaks, we use also local Champagne oak. We are constantly developing the winemaking with trials of different oaks and toasts as well as yeast lees stirring (battonage).”
After bottling, the wines are transported to the Gallo-Roman chalk cellars of Saint-Niçaise to ferment and mature. The House has a policy to keep the Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs on the lees for close to 10 years, which makes it deliciously wide and rich when it is brought onto the market. The wine is dosed with 10 g/l residual sugar at disgorgement and left to settle for six months before its launch. To-do list Professionals and champagne lovers have always appreciated Comtes de Champagne for what it is and the wine’s quality has been high throughout its existence. Why is it not more famous or expensive then? There are numerous reasons for this. Firstly, there is the quantity. Far less of Comtes is produced than its larger rivals. The status of Cristal or Dom Pérignon, therefore, is best left unchallenged, as there is simply not enough Comtes de Champagne around to cater for everybody. Instead, Taittinger should take a strong move to conquer the premium position of Blanc de Blancs category, now shared fairly evenly between Comtes, Salon and Dom Ruinart
A new page was turned in the Taittinger book after the family bought back the House in 2006.
The fresh management, marketing and sales teams are dusting off old habits and listening to the markets in order to lift Taittinger’s image up to the level of its wine quality. The first product the new team wanted to give a facelift to was the Comtes. Having always been appreciated as a wine, Comtes has so far not been marketed or perceived as a luxury good. Now, the packaging and advertising are being reworked with the help of Marketing Manager Dominique Garréta, who brought with her branding expertise from the cosmetics industry. As a part of the brand construction work, the company decided to make significant price increases at the beginning of 2008.
This took the market by surprise but the timing was in accordance with most Houses’ price increases. The increases were done to tame the accelerating demand for Comtes and to position its image at the right level compared to the competition. In contrast to its competition, Taittinger has not launched a line of older vintages or late-disgorged champagnes. Due to the old management’s views on champagne’s limited ageing capacity, there are no great reserves of older vintages.
The new management has also turned this habit around by keeping back larger stock of current vintages. All in all, it has been fascinating to see the change of course at this traditional Champagne House. I first visited it in 2005 and a lot has changed since then. The early signs are more than encouraging as the family seems to be nurturing the brand wholeheartedly. Their task is made easier by the existing top quality of the wines. It is a wonderful asset when a superb product is intact and one needs only to polish the image.